I have now encountered two people, Gary Taubes and Richard Milton, and by my own judgment found them to be insightful. Their observations go against the grain of embedded ( and pompous) professionals.
Taubes described the field of nutrition in his book Good Calories Bad Calories, and how it was filled with people of modest intellectual energy but who were nonetheless dispensing bad advice about diet. Nutritionists have had a large hand in the obesity crisis. I took his words as a challenge, went against all “expert” advice on how to eat and lose weight, and it worked. I lost 22 pounds, and have kept them off, feel good, never suffering hunger pangs or low energy.
Milton has taken on the fields as diverse as biology, evolution, Darwinism, geology and even quantum mechanics, but focuses mostly on Darwinism. His most unwell-received work was The Facts of Life: Shattering the Myths of Darwinism. (It is “roundly rejected,” says Wikipedia.) The science of evolution is full of holes plugged by speculation and assumptions. People in the field, including the revered Richard Dawkins, are engaged in a collective form of mental tyranny often referred to as “groupthink.” A common social phenomenon, it is the result of an enforcement mechanism called “ostracism.” People for the most part would rather belong and feel camaraderie (and have a steady stream of income) than to be right about anything.
I found the same thing with regards to AIDS, that at the very top of the food chain the supposed experts were not merely self-deluded, but actual liars. But they controlled the one thing that everyone else needed, money. Deviants from the controlled orthodoxy are not only ostracized, but are punished financially. The liars, cheats, posers and mere go-alongs are rewarded, often handsomely.
Taubes and Milton are “science journalists,” that is, they are not part of the fraternities that they write about, and so enjoy some intellectual freedom. It is too bad we have no better word than “journalists,” as that field too is filled with mediocre sycophants, but the important point is that they do not rely on professional approval, peer review and other enforcement mechanisms, and so are free to research and report their findings. They do so without being lynched by mobs late at night, but are nonetheless roundly rejected.
What I have noticed about both is intense curiosity and doggedness and ability to express their thoughts with great clarity. They each appear, outside looking in, to have remarkable intellectual capacities. They bring better questions, sometimes answered.
To have a clear view of our world we need to get away from the tyranny of groups. But in so doing, we lose camaraderie, cohesion and affirmation. Too many “experts” enjoy an adulatory self-image. They are smug and dismissive of contrarians. Pursuit of truth, after all, does not result in steady income. So those so engaged usually make their living in some other less stimulating fashion, honorable professions like truck driving, postal delivery, or even accounting. (I once referred to my profession, in front of a large group of accountants no less, as the “second oldest profession.” Accountants take themselves sullenly seriously. My joke fell on the audience like soft snowflakes, in elegant embarrassing silence.)
Consequently, the search for truth is both lonely and impoverished. Those of us who do it usually have two lives. In one we are polite and passive, dealing with family and friends on a surface level, never broaching the rules of conduct at the supper table. We keep it light and superficial. That is our social lives.
In isolation we discover exciting truths and unexplained events, connections and that constant sensation that we are on the brink of something important. It is exciting. But we cannot share it with mere walking breathing mortals. They have been taught that everything is explained by authority figures. For them, it seems, the ultimate joy in life is faith and melding with the group. There is joy in that, I know, but looking back over my life I can see that I never sought it or made the necessary mental sacrifices to enjoy it. I was rather a fool to stand before several hundred accountants and politely ridicule them. That attitude led me to self-employment, a frightening prospect that brought with it the ability to think for myself.
I wish to take this opportunity to give thanks to the readers, writers and commenters on this blog. We rarely, if ever, come face-to-face, but we know each other on a level that is deeper than most Internet relationships allow. We have all had the following experience: Sitting at dinner on a holiday, take Christmas for example, we have heard a really stupid observation, and with mouth half-open thought to ourselves … “Nah. It just isn’t worth it.”
I toast you all this morning. Thank you for keeping this place interesting and lively.